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    Majority opposes ballot question on nurse staffing, poll finds

    Question 1 would limit the number of patients assigned to hospital nurses at one time. The Massachusetts Nurses Association, a labor union, backs the ballot measure.
    Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File
    Question 1 would limit the number of patients assigned to hospital nurses at one time. The Massachusetts Nurses Association, a labor union, backs the ballot measure.

    A new poll suggests that support for a ballot question to regulate nurse staffing is waning, with a majority of voters surveyed last week saying they plan to vote against the measure on Election Day.

    Fifty-one percent of likely voters said they opposed the ballot question, while 43 percent supported it, according to the new UMass Lowell/Boston Globe poll. That’s a reversal from a survey in September that found 52 percent of voters were in favor of the initiative.

    Question 1 would limit the number of patients assigned to hospital nurses at one time. The Massachusetts Nurses Association, a labor union, backs the ballot measure, which would require hospitals to hire more nurses. The hospital industry is fighting it.

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    The latest survey, conducted from Oct. 1 to Oct. 7, is the first to show that opponents of Question 1 are in the lead, said Joshua J. Dyck, who led the poll and is codirector of the Center for Public Opinion at University of Massachusetts Lowell.

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    “As the advertising in the campaign has picked up — and certainly, this is the one where we’ve seen the most advertising — it seems like those seeds of doubt are being planted,” Dyck said.

    The Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association has spent more than $12 million to try to defeat the ballot question, much of it on television ads, according to campaign finance reports. A committee established by the nurses union has spent almost $8 million, including money spent on advertising.

    The poll found that Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, leads his Democratic opponent, Jay Gonzalez, by a wide margin, 39 points. Sixty-six percent of likely voters favored Baker, compared with 27 percent who supported Gonzalez. Eight percent were undecided.

    Baker leads Gonzalez among Republicans and independent voters, and he has nearly as much support from Democrats as Gonzalez has, according to the survey. The governor’s favorability rating was 76 percent.

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    “Jay Gonzalez still has a bit of a name recognition problem,” Dyck said.

    Thirty-one percent of likely voters said they had no opinion of Gonzalez, and 23 percent said they had never heard of him.

    The survey shows US Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat running for reelection, leading her Republican opponent, Geoff Diehl, with support from 56 percent of likely voters over Diehl’s 31 percent. Eight percent, mostly Republicans and independents, said they favored independent challenger Shiva Ayyadurai.

    Another ballot measure, Question 3, would uphold the state’s antidiscrimination law for transgender people. The survey found 74 percent of likely voters planned to vote in favor of keeping the law, while 22 percent oppose the law and plan to vote no. The language of the question is not intuitive, so voters casting ballots on Nov. 6 may be confused about the effect of their votes, Dyck noted.

    Question 1, the nurse staffing measure, has triggered a pitched political fight. Judith Stolfo, a retired administrative law judge from Western Massachusetts who took part in the survey, said she doesn’t think the initiative would help patients.

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    “It sounds like one of those things that might be a good idea. I think in actual practice it would be really bad,” said Stolfo, 70. “I think decisions would be based on what administrators and bureaucrats think instead of what patients actually need at a particular time.”

    Stephen Turner, 67, of Marlborough said he doesn’t think nurse staffing should be regulated by the state.

    “I just don’t like the whole concept of government getting involved,” said Turner, a manager at a water treatment plant. “If you say [a nurse] can only be in charge of three patients, what do you do with the fourth patient who comes in? . . . Do you turn that family away?”

    Massachusetts hospital executives argue that the ballot question is too rigid and would result in higher costs and longer wait times for patients. A recent report from the state Health Policy Commission was largely consistent with hospitals’ projections, saying the ballot question could cost more than $900 million a year. Much of those costs would be for hiring additional nurses, the group said.

    But the nurses union argues patient limits are necessary to ensure that nurses are not overburdened and are providing the best possible care. For typical medical and surgical patients, the ballot question would set a limit of four patients per nurse.

    Lynn Sackman-Aper, a church office administrator, said she noticed a shortage of nurses when she took her daughter to a hospital emergency room over the summer. The 60-year-old said she plans to vote yes on Question 1.

    “It’s no good to have overworked nurses because they can’t give patients the care that they need,” said Sackman-Aper, a Dudley resident. “If they have less patients, they’re not going to miss things, they’re going to be in a whole lot better mood.”

    As for estimates that the ballot measure could raise costs? “When it’s my child that needs care, I’m not really concerned about the cost,” she said. “I’m concerned about the care for my child.”

    The poll also asked about the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who was confirmed by the US Senate on Saturday despite allegations of sexual assault. Among Massachusetts registered voters, 61 percent said they would not have confirmed Kavanaugh, while 33 percent said they would have confirmed him.

    Women and younger voters were more likely to say they believed Christine Blasey Ford, who testified that Kavanaugh assaulted her in the 1980s.

    In response to the Sept. 13 gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley, just 27 percent of registered voters said they were satisfied with the response of the gas company, Columbia Gas. But most voters said they were satisfied with the governor’s response to the crisis.

    The poll surveyed 791 registered voters, with a margin of error of 4.4 percent. This included a subset of 485 likely voters with a margin of error of 5.6 percent.

    Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@
    globe.com
    . Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.